Free Will or Foul Play?Twenty-year-old Sean Purcell lived in the basement of his parents’ home. His living area had its own entrance. With school and work, it wasn’t unusual for his parents not to see him every day. He also wasn’t known for returning texts or phone calls speedily, so the Purcell’s weren’t too concerned when they didn’t see him for a couple of days. They didn’t get worried until Mrs. Purcell realized their son wasn’t raiding the pantry or the refrigerator.

She immediately checked the basement. The first thing she noticed was Sean’s cell phone lying on the bed. The home screen showed some missed calls and texts from his on again – off again girlfriend Kayla. Mrs. Purcell didn’t know the password to get into the phone and check the last time he used it. His laptop, lying on the desk, was also password protected. At this point, Mrs. Purcell was frantic. Sean’s car and wallet were gone, but she didn’t think he’d run away and leave electronics behind. Even more worrying, most or all of his clothes seemed to be in the closet and chest-of-drawers. A worst case scenario popped into her head: Sean left to make a short trip, forgot his phone, and then was killed in a wreck or murdered.

The Purcell’s called Sean’s university and learned he hadn’t been to classes for three days. They called his closest friends and Kayla. None of them had seen Sean for a couple of days or knew where he was;, or at least no one admitted to it. The Purcell’s reported their son missing to the police.

After Sean and his car were still missing two weeks later, the Purcell’s began to wonder if the police were taking the missing person investigation seriously enough. Maybe they viewed Sean as just another runaway.

When an acquaintance of Mr. Purcell recommended as a good source for finding missing persons, the Purcells immediately hired us. Our cellular forensic experts started the investigation by breaking the cell’s password and recovering data with forensics data recovery software. We also conducted a computer forensics investigation of Sean’s laptop, using data mining software to access deleted email and web browsing history.

Nothing of much interest was found on the laptop; however, the cellular forensics was a gold mine of information – information Sean thought he’d deleted from his phone. About three weeks before Sean’s disappearance, someone started sending him threatening text messages. These messages were sometimes vague, sometimes specific. The messages said things like, “Drove by your house tonite” and “Pay up or die.”  Interestingly, just before his disappearance, Sean was searching for extended stay hotels in a city over an hour away.  A new theory presented itself: Sean was hiding from someone who wanted money; someone he thought would follow through on death threats.

At this point, the investigation focused on the extended stay hotels Sean had searched. We were hired to find Sean, not to track down the person sending threatening texts. While this information was forwarded to the police, used their own missing persons investigator to canvass the extended stay hotels.

In the meantime, one of our specialists conducted investigative interviews with Sean’s friends and Kayla. One friend admitted knowing that Sean had gotten into the drug scene and was showing signs of paranoia, especially after a local drug dealer accused Sean of stealing drugs. Sean believed the dealer was tracking him through his cell phone and watching him through the web camera on his laptop. The friend didn’t know where Sean went, but he did know he was hiding out.

The investigator canvassing the extended stay hotels found Sean by spotting his car in the parking lot of the hotel.  This information was provided to the parents who were relieved and assisted in his recovery.

-Brenda McGinley, CEO, All in Investigations